Words by Keenan Higgins & Jasmine Johnson
Today marks 45 years since the birth of Hip-Hop!
In the decades since it all began on Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, the genre has went on to become the most powerful (and most lucrative!) in all of music. Of course, that feat is heavily due to the many rap pioneers who started it all those years ago, upheld it decade after decade, and continue to keep it going strong today through the current digital era.
We came together and picked 15 of the most memorable debut albums in rap for the 45th anniversary of Hip-Hop.
Let’s start from the beginning:
The Sugarhill Gang, Sugarhill Gang (Feb, 1980)
The Sugarhill Gang carved their legend as the hip-hop group credited with putting out the first successful rap record, “Rapper’s Delight,” in September 1979. The album followed soon after in February 1980, and helped spearhead the beginning of something great. While you probably could find a record that pre-dates this one with rapping on it, Sugarhill Gang brought the bars to the masses and solidified the power of the mic. No wonder why we chose a microphone as our official stamp of approval for the flyest records only.
Kurtis Blow, Kurtis Blow (Sept, 1980)
As the first rapper to sign with a major label, Kurtis Blow definitely paved the way for what’s now called “bidding wars” between labels wanting to sign the next big rap star. Spearheaded by his hit single “The Breaks,” Blow’s self-titled debut cemented his role as a rap pioneer that he began to carve out a year earlier with the 1979 single release of “Christmas Rappin’.” We might be reaching, but he even created a lane for the rap-singers dominating the charts today with his cover of “Takin’ Care of Business.”
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, The Message (Oct, 1982)
Grandmaster Flash was and still is one of the most recognized names in the rap and DJ community. With the Furious Five by his side, including member Keef Cowboy who created the term “hip-hop,” Flash established the foundations of rap culture though innovative DJing, cutting, scratching and mixing. Their groundbreaking single “The Message” showed us how powerful these words on wax could be when the right person gets behind the mic. Grandmaster Flash was one of the firsts, and thankfully wouldn’t be the last.
Public Enemy, Yo! Bum Rush The Show (Feb, 1987)
We don’t know what’s more iconic about Public Enemy’s first album: the music or the rifle target logo that has literally become a movement on its own! With Yo! Bum Rush The Show, the group empowered a worldwide audience with their hit single “Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)” and the first and namesake single “Public Enemy No. 1.” In short, this album gave birth to a new era of hard-hitting Hip-Hop.
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper (Mar, 1988)
Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff were the first real duo in rap to show that two can sometimes be better than one. Before Mobb Deep, Outkast, Clipse, and way before Rae Sremmurd, Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince pioneered the double take movement with He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper — the first double-disc release in Hip-Hop history. Although it wasn’t their first, this album expanded the imagination of rap by bringing it all the way to TV with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the classic sitcom that both rapper’s starred on. With a primetime audience on their side, it was no surprise the second single off the LP, “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” took home the very first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance.
NWA, Straight Outta Compton (Aug, 1988)
If you ever wondered where the gangsta in rap came from, give all thanks to NWA. This groundbreaking album brought a cultural commentary that ended up changing rap forever. Dr. Dre, Arabian Prince, DJ Yella, Ice Cube, MC Ren and the dearly missed Eazy-E topped the charts together by turning their life experiences into art, providing a ground for Hip-Hop’s growth into a platform for protest. They marketed themselves as journalists basically, reporting on the effects of poverty and gang violence, and put profanity in their lyrics to make fans listening from the outside-looking-in repeat it in ethical terms. The group had a dangerous exterior, but had a message to prove by offending the right people.
Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle (Nov, 1993)
You are looking at one of the most successful albums in the game. Doggystyle held the original title of fastest-selling Hip-Hop album with its record-breaking 806K first week sales, spearheading it into a status as one of the most pivotal albums at a time where the West Coast was really starting to shine. Uncle Snoop, we salute you fam!
Nas, Illmatic (Apr, 1994)
Nas’ debut magnum opus wasn’t even a best-seller at the time it originally released, but the influence it’s had on the game as a whole is one that can’t be denied. We were happy to help spearhead this record to greatness with The Source‘s classic 5-mic review given to Illmatic back in 1994, and our feelings about it haven’t changed one bit. The Queens-bred king will always reign supreme.
Missy Elliott, Supa Dupa Fly (Jul, 1997)
Representing for the ladies on the mic, Missy released one of the greatest musical albums of all time. Supa Dupa Fly was an electrifying album that was feminist, innovative and inspirational all at the same time. Missy also helped curate the era of visuals, where each of her music videos brought us a cinematic appeal that was purely eclectic and innovative. Missy provides a cocky-yet-sweet approach on this record that was just powerful to witness.
50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (Feb, 2003)
Call him a troll if you want, but 50 Cent took over the rap game in 2003 with the release of his debut album. Backed by Eminem’s Shady Records, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ brought back the era of street rap that went by the wayside for a bit during the Bad Boy “Shiny Suit” era. His blowout hit “In Da Club” earned the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and saw platinum success tenfold. Looking back, 50 proved to be the underdog in the game that made it to the top with plenty of hits to count for. Thankfully he got rich, because our daily Instagram feeds would be lacking if the other option came to fruition.
Kanye West, The College Dropout (Feb, 2004)
Regardless of how you feel about him now, Kanye West really did release a modern-day rap classic with his 2004 debut album. College Dropout was talking about real life problems, particularly when it came to the first single “Through The Wire,” where each verse was spit through a literal wired-shut mouth. Kanye fought hard for the recognition and remaining respect he gets today, and his beginnings here remind us that, behind the current madness, there’s still a genius in there.
Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon: The End of Day (Sept, 2009)
Anyone currently get lit to Travis Scott’s Astroworld, or any of the many emo-rap stars, honestly owes a big chunk of homage to Mr. Mescudi. The sonics, the visuals, just the overall Kid Cudi swag was enough to influence the last leg of the generation to shift the sound of Hip-Hop even further to the left. Man on the Moon: The End of Day is a classic slow burner, but in the best way possible.
Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city (Oct, 2012)
Kendrick Lamar’s storytelling behind this album is remarkable. He introduced us into his own Cali underworld, filled with new emcees that added a new spin on the “G-Funk bounce” that put the region on the map. This album brings to mind a short film, with powerful stories about gang violence, love, and his teenage years of being on the streets. Even now good kid, m.A.A.d city is on the charts after 300 weeks, proving once again just how wrong the Grammys got it that year. DAMN!
Chance The Rapper, Coloring Book (2016)
Technically, Chance The Rapper doesn’t even have a debut album; all of his projects to date have been labeled as mixtapes. However, the game-changing free album Coloring Book put streaming platforms on entirely when it became the first streaming-album to be on the top charts with over 53 million streams. Add to the fact that it’s the first streaming-only album ever to win a Grammy,Coloring Book proved that Hip-Hop could not only survive in the digital era, but that it would also dominate. To this day, Coloring Book is still considered to be one of the most popular and fulfilling albums — err, mixtapes! — ever made.
Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy (2018)
The era of Cardi B — yeah, we’re calling it just that! — has been one of the most entertaining, ascending whirlwind careers to watch. Kicked off by her five-time platinum single “Bodak Yellow” last year in April, Cardi couldn’t get people to stop anticipating and talking about her debut album. Once Invasion of Privacy finally did arrive, it was already certified gold with 500,000 copies and counting off the singles itself. Two months later, it got platinum certification by the RIAA. The “Be Careful” rapper has been setting records left and right, and who knows what she has up her sleeves next.
Who’d we miss? Sound off on your favorite debut Hip-Hop records by letting us know over on Facebook and Twitter!
Happy birthday, Hip-Hop! Forever love…